Field Sow-thistle, Milk Thistle – Flowers

(Sonchus arvensis) Chicory family

Flower-heads—Bright yellow, very showy, 1 to 2 in. across, several or numerous, on rough peduncles in a spreading cluster. Involucre nearly 1 in. high; the scales narrow, rough. Stem: 2 to 4 ft. high, leafy below, naked, and paniculately branched above, from deep roots and creeping root-stocks. Leaves: Long, narrow, spiny, but not sharp-toothed; deeply cut, mostly clasping at base.

Preferred Habitat—Meadows, fields, roadsides, salt-water marshes.

Flowering Season—July—October.

Distribution-Newfoundland to Minnesota and Utah, south to New Jersey.

It cannot be long, at their present rate of increase, before this and its sister immigrant become very common weeds throughout our entire area, as they are in Europe and Asia.

The Annual Sow-thistle, or Hare’s Lettuce (S. oleraceus), its smaller, pale yellow flower-heads, with smooth involucres more closely grouped, now occupies our fields and waste places with the assurance of a native. Honey-bees chiefly, but many other bees, wasps, brilliant little flower-flies (Syrphidae), and butter-flies among other winged visitors which alight on the flowers, from May to November, are responsible for the copious, soft, fine, white-plumed seeds that the winds waft away to fresh colonizing ground. The leaves clasp the stem by deep ear-like or arrow-shaped lobes, or the large lower ones are on petioles, lyrate-pinnatifid, the terminal division commonly large and triangular; the margins all toothed. Frugal European peasants use them as a pot-herb or salad. One of the plant’s common folk-names in the Old World is hare’s palace. According to the “Grete Herbale,” if “the hare come under it, he is sure no beast can touch hym.” That was the spot Brer Rabbit was looking for when Brer Fox lay low! Another early writer declares that “when hares are overcome with heat they eat of an herb called hare’s-lettuce, hare’s-house, hare’s-palace; and there is no disease in this beast the cure whereof she does not seek for in this herb.” Who has detected our cotton-tails nibbling the succulent leaves ?